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[Essay/Paper - Opinion]

We Should All Be Feminists

"The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are.” – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (p. 34)

Considering its wide reach, we could not miss to include Nigeran writer and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in this archive of material. She is considered one of the most important contemporary figures in the anglosaxon literature and in the contemporary intersectional feminism discourse. Over the last decades, she has published numerous novels of fiction and non-fiction that have pushed the boundaries of gender and race shedding light on African cultures and narratives. She has been giving feminist pathways to African women as well as as supported feminist upbringings and other forms of political and social engagement.

In her iconic transcription of a TED Talk, "We Should All Be Feminists'', Adichie presents different examples of events experienced in her life that underlay the patriarcal stigmas anchored in African traditions and in the wider societal structures. Despite the greatly inspiring message of Adichie in this little book of less than 50 pages, I couldn’t help but find some gaps.

"The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, innovative, creative. We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much."

(p. 18)

In this quote, Adichie argues towards the different physiology between men and women. Despite the fact that nature has prehistorically given men stronger stands in leading and protecting groups against dangers, Adichie acknowledges that we are now living in different times and that qualities such as creativity and intelligence are as valuable attributes of power than physical strength. Absolutely but... isn’t slightly shortcutted, not to say elitist, to assume that women, in order to find equality in a patriarchal structure, need to be smart, innovative and creative–qualities that are favoured and supported in highly competitive and business-driven environments? Not everyone can afford to compete and raise their voice in such an environment, but still want to be considered a subject of free will and agency. If we don’t define the terms employed in this statement, i.e. intelligent, creative, innovative, we are left with a very limited understanding of the issue. Indeed this specific quote doesn’t take into account the notions of status, class culture, customs, or non-binarism. This is what intersectionality tries to embrace: to deconstruct all types of oppressed categorizations to overcome the ties of a privileged discourse.

It makes me think of Dior’s catwalk in 2017 where the title of the book “We Should All Be Feminist” was on all models’ T-shirts. It was during the first fashion show of Dior’s new artistic director, Maria-Grazia Chiuri. Known for bringing a feminist vision to her defilés (she has collaborated with several radical artists on her following shows, i.e. Claire Fontaine, Judy Chicago etc.), she explicitly expressed in this regard: “I insist on the fact that femininity and feminism could and have to be complementary”. Although it is understandably important to be able to reach and promote such a statement in a context of high visibility setting such as Dior’s catwalk (some would argue that it helps giving feminism better “press”), one has to also be sensible of the instrumentalization involved in such actions. Isn’t it odd to think that feminism could become a ‘mainstream’ commodity? But to which feminism are we talking about? Isn’t that message fuelled by hyper-commodified white bodies? Right, everything stems from a standpoint but shouldn’t one be careful in not neglecting the other ‘categories’ when fostering a message of inclusion and conscious-raising?

Restricting here the debate to one quote and one example only attempts to shed light on the complex notions that underlay the term of intersectional feminism. It brings attention to the importance of analyzing intersectionality in sociopolitical and cultural terms; i.e. equality is not only defined by gender but by much more. All in all together, Adichie remains a well-known figure in speaking about intersectionality. She has extensively raised the questions of postcolonialism and the overlapping of discriminations and the authenticity of voices in her writings. To pursue the conversation, there is another interesting talk of her in relation to dominant vs underrepresented cultural stories which was released in the TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” in 2009.

(comment by C.R)